Indian Internet service providers (ISP’s) have asked the government to make it mandatory for foreign search engines and social networking sites to set up main servers in India to provide services in the country. According to the ISPs, this will ensure the continuing privacy of domestic Internet and email users.

The bone that domestic ISPs have to pick on this is two-fold. One, that US security agencies can easily access all sorts of private information of Indian subscribers. This includes emails, social networking details as well as other sensitive and more importantly private data. The second, that US-based companies can turn down requests for information stating that they do not come under Indian jurisdiction. Companies that come in this list include Google, Yahoo, Apple, Facebook, Skype and Microsoft.

If Google, Yahoo and the other companies have local servers, the companies can then direct the information of that country to only pass through these servers. This in turn will make it easier for the local governments to keep a tab on the said information without any jurisdictional hassle.That is the theory, at least.

The Tianhe-2 is now the world's fastest supercomputer (image credit: Jack Dongarra)

 Indian ISPs want global companies to set up main servers in India (representational picture)

Rajesh Chharia, President, Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), told a leading Indian newspaper that “the main advantage of local service would be that whenever Indian intelligence wants data from the foreign companies, they would not be able to say that they are not governed by Indian laws.” 

While talking about localised servers, it was reported that the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI), which primarily represents GSM telecom service providers, stand against this. Rajan Mathews, Executive Director, COAI, was of the opinion that “all companies are required to function under the laws of their country. It would be futile to complain of the policies of other countries. Our government should make laws that are robust enough, clear and well crafted to protect the privacy of our citizens, so that companies operating here have no excuse for violating it.”

A few things should be noted here. It is important to focus on national security and have transparency over sensitive information when looking at a suspected individual. However, it is equally important to take into account the fine line one must toe when yielding the double-edged sword of security and privacy. Following the PRISM scandal, where major US security agencies were involved in massive data collection of millions of US citizens, the focus on privacy is at its highest.

Another aspect that needs to be looked at is the cost behind such a move. While domestic ISPs have asked for localised servers, it may not be possible for companies like Google, Yahoo or Facebook to direct all India-based user information only through those servers. The cash cost of this move cannot be ignored either. While the idea of an independent server for India seems like a good idea, it may not be possible for companies to do so. Whether India has the infrastructure for such a move is another question that needs looking at.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,